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Governing the Ungovernable: Thoughts From Inside the Libertarian National Convention

It goes without saying that Donald J. Trump is a man who has made history many times over in his political career. But through it all, he has never lost sight of the ultimate end goal of his movement, nor has he overlooked the truly colossal stakes of this election, which truly is the final battle for our republic.

Both of these tendencies were made abundantly clear when he made history yet again on Saturday, as he became the first-ever major party nominee and first former president to directly address the Libertarian Party’s National Convention. 

The mainstream media and the left (but I repeat myself) have already rushed to declare this event an embarrassment and a failure for President Trump, from the occasional boos and heckling to the feisty exchanges among attendees. But here is what really happened in that hotel ballroom in Washington, D.C.

The Storm Before the Calm

As I arrived roughly four hours before President Trump took the stage, the room was very clearly divided into two camps: MAGA hat-wearing Trump supporters, in attendance to see their favorite president speak once more, and the Libertarians and their delegates, in town for the selection of their presidential nominee.

The first sign of bad blood came when Libertarian National Committee (LNC) Chairwoman Angela McArdle had to take the stage and inform the crowd that the four front rows and several circular tables right in front of the stage, which were supposedly reserved for the delegates who had paid money and traveled thousands of miles to attend, were already occupied by Trump supporters who allegedly did not have the seats reserved for them. She calmly asked them to vacate their seats and allow the delegates to have them. After a long process of many bodies shuffling across the ballroom floor, this issue was rectified. One could reasonably ask why these rows were not simply roped off or marked as “reserved” from the beginning, but it was resolved without issue nonetheless, so it’s not worth dwelling upon for too long.

But shortly thereafter, it became apparent that there were even more Libertarian delegates in attendance than they had anticipated. McArdle returned to the stage to announce that they would be removing the circular tables to make room for even more rows of chairs. But once even that was done, there were still not enough seats for everyone in attendance. Thus, a number of Libertarian delegates were left with standing room only, mostly on the far sides of the room but also in the middle of the ballroom, thus blocking the views of people who were seated in rows behind them. Soon enough, it was Libertarian-on-Libertarian conflict as fellow delegates yelled at each other to sit down.

Among the speakers who took the stage before Trump, the mood was generally one of hostility. Libertarian presidential candidate Michael Rectenwald took on a sort of scolding tone towards President Trump, declaring that he had “a lot to learn” but probably wasn’t willing or capable of learning anything new. Other presidential candidates who took a firmly anti-Trump stance included former candidate for Georgia Senate Chase Oliver, who won more Libertarian primaries than any other candidate, who introduced himself to my friend beside me and declared that he was “running to oppose Donald Trump.” Supporters of candidate Lars Mapstead were handing out signs that read “Stop Trump – Vote Lars.”

The one voice of reason on the stage was comedian and podcaster Dave Smith, who emphasized the historical significance of a former president and current major party nominee addressing the LNC for the first time in its history. Reminding the crowd that they were being granted an audience with such an influential man—as well as a spotlight on the world’s stage due to his presence—he urged them to “be respectful” above all else, rather than behave like college-aged hooligans or “leftists at a Jordan Peterson event at UC Berkeley.” He then took time to remind the MAGA crowd in the room that Trump was there not to address them—those who have already committed to voting for him—but to speak to the voters who were not yet on his side. Like a good businessman, Trump was there to follow the mantra of ABC: “Always be closing.”

But as the occasional informal and heated debate broke out on the floor among the attendees, the mood increasingly became one of dread: That President Trump’s speech would be a madhouse, that the immature ankle-biters in the audience would continue to act like petulant children, and that his big gamble would be for nothing.

Donald in the Lions’ Den

Despite all of these concerns, there was once again that unique aura, an almost magical feeling, when President Trump finally took the stage. As his signature entrance song, Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA,” played over the speakers, the crowd was significantly better behaved than they had been in the hours leading up to his speech. The jeers and boos, while notable at occasional moments throughout the speech, were not nearly as loud or constant as they had been earlier in the day. The mainstream media’s cherrypicking of certain clips notwithstanding, it was a testament to President Trump’s ability to truly mesmerize even the most hostile crowds and maintain control over the room the entire time.

On the single most contentious issue for the whole crowd—the question of COVID-era policies—he avoided discussing the creation of the vaccine itself and instead vowed to oppose all mask and vaccine mandates, especially in schools. It was at this moment, more than any other moment in the speech, that I fully expected the crowd to get rowdy and heckle him over his administration’s development of the vaccine. But the moment came and went without an issue.

The most intensely heckled portion of the speech was undoubtedly when President Trump quoted a recent article by Deroy Murdock, a respected Libertarian commentator, in The American Spectator. Murdock, again highlighting the historical significance of President Trump addressing the LNC, argued that the Libertarian Party should nominate Trump.

As Trump echoed this sentiment and listed off the many libertarian-minded accomplishments of his administration, some elements in the crowd were increasingly seething at the suggestion of him taking their party’s nomination. When the heckling became too much to ignore, President Trump first smiled for a bit, clearly unfazed, before he dropped the most unexpected, and yet so uniquely Trumpian, insult of the night to the hostile crowd: “Maybe you don’t want to win. Keep getting your 3% every four years.”

The hilarious and yet brutally accurate nature of the insult drew laughs even from most of the Libertarians in attendance, while the same handful of bad actors continued booing and heckling. But as Trump simply continued delivering his speech, they eventually lost their energy and quieted down. It was a slap in the face—not from Trump, but from reality.

Reading the Room

Clearly having been well-informed by his advisors on what exactly to say to this particular crowd, President Trump hit on all the right points during his speech. Echoing rhetoric that would be heard at any Trump rally, he reaffirmed his support for the First Amendment and the Second Amendment. He vowed to protect property rights and end foreign wars. He called out the Deep State’s persecution of himself and many other political prisoners across the country. He lambasted Marxism, communism, and diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) programs and mandates.

But not only did he stick to the parts of his platform that would get equal applause from Libertarians and from any of his regular rallies; he clearly did his research and addressed several crucial issues that speak directly to Libertarians’ concerns. He vowed to protect cryptocurrency in the United States, and he emphasized his support for the Tenth Amendment so as to give more power back to the individual states rather than the federal government. He vowed to put together a special task force to investigate the persecution of political prisoners, and he promised to appoint Libertarians to this task force, alongside putting a Libertarian in his second Cabinet.

Early on in his speech, when referencing his own persecution at the hands of Biden’s cronies in New York, Georgia, and elsewhere, he remarked, in true Trumpian fashion: “If I wasn’t a Libertarian before, I sure as hell am a Libertarian now.” It was a smart play for the room very early on, which set the tone very clearly: He was there as a friend to the Libertarian Party, not an enemy.

But the single most powerful moment from the speech came when, as he promised to pardon the January 6 prisoners and other political prisoners, he also vowed to commute the sentence of Ross Ulbricht. From the moment I entered the room, the staggering number of “Free Ross” signs and the frequency of the “Free Ross” chants before and during his speech seemed to suggest that freeing Ulbricht was far and away the top issue for Libertarians in 2024, even ahead of other Libertarian demands such as pardoning Julian Assange or ending the Federal Reserve. 

As such, this unexpected promise drew the loudest and longest standing ovation of the entire night. Like watching a master magician at work, it was as if a switch had been flipped. In that moment, Trump won over at least 99% of the crowd. There were still a small handful of professional agitators, but their cries were now massively reduced in comparison to the earlier shenanigans of the night. For the remainder of the speech, the crowd remained quiet and was far more respectful.

A Gamble Worth Taking

Naturally, Trump’s enemies have attempted to paint his speech and the raucous crowd’s reaction as a massive waste of time that only made a fool out of him. The serial liars behind the “Biden-Harris HQ” account on X posted a clip from the speech, falsely claiming that the crowd was chanting “Hypocrite” at Trump when they were actually chanting “End the Fed” (one of the more common chants of the night).

But at the end of the day, this was one of the smartest gambles President Trump has ever taken. It wasn’t exactly a win-win situation, but more of a “win-draw” situation.

The absolute worst-case scenario that could come out of this speech is that none of the Libertarians in attendance will vote for President Trump; that is to say, their minds were not changed from what they were already set on doing when their convention began. There would be no net loss for President Trump at that point. He tried his best but walked away with the same amount of supporters as he already had prior to his unprecedented appeal to the biggest third party in the nation

The best-case scenario, already hinted at by Libertarian attendees in the aftermath of the speech, is that he convinced many in attendance to switch their votes to him on the basis of his uniquely Libertarian promises for a second term. The dream scenario that President Trump and Deroy Murdock called for—the Libertarian Party nominating Trump himself—ultimately did not happen and was most likely never going to happen anyway.

But simply peeling away some of these voters is a major electoral achievement and an appeal that has never before been made by the nominee of any major political party in modern history. And now, after the party ultimately nominated a homosexual activist and former Democrat who was in favor of COVID lockdowns, even some of the most radical Libertarians who previously tried to disrupt President Trump’s speech are now ready to vote for the 45th President.

President Trump went to the Libertarian National Convention having clearly assessed the current state of the chess board that is the 2024 election. Of the four major third-party candidacies—the Libertarian Party, the Green Party, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., and Cornel West—the only one that most likely presents a greater threat to Trump than to Biden is the Libertarian Party. By doing whatever he can to minimize the damage to his campaign that Libertarian voters would cause, he is only further stacking the deck in his favor, while Biden is left dealing with the trifecta of the Greens, Kennedy, and West.

If nothing else, President Trump continues to prove that he and our country are entering uncharted territory, the likes of which we have never seen before. This election is too important to avoid taking certain gambles that can only pay off in the long run. Every vote counts, and given the historic stakes of this particular election, the possibility of earning the votes of serious Libertarians is worth enduring the obnoxiousness of the unserious Libertarians.

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About Eric Lendrum

Eric Lendrum graduated from the University of California, Santa Barbara, where he was the Secretary of the College Republicans and the founding chairman of the school’s Young Americans for Freedom chapter. He has interned for Young America’s Foundation, the Heritage Foundation, and the White House, and has worked for numerous campaigns including the 2018 re-election of Congressman Devin Nunes (CA-22). He is currently a co-host of The Right Take podcast.

Photo: Former US President and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump addresses the Libertarian National Convention in Washington, DC, May 25, 2024. (Photo by Jim WATSON / AFP) (Photo by JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images)

Notable Replies

  1. Avatar for task task says:

    I take a lot of issue with commuting the sentence of Ross Ulbricht. A lot of young people, using his website, died purchasing drugs that killed them. The creator (Ross) liked making millions of dollars which is not, in itself, a bad thing but sometimes, if you can’t prevent tragedies except by not making money from something that enables tragedies you do the right thing - you shut the website down. He had that ability. That’s my opinion and that is what I would have done even it left me a pauper.

    Trump is probably unaware of the just how bad the Silk Road was. It was not unlike what Jeffery Epstein had done. Certainly it was not the intention of the creator, as was the intention of Epstein, to create a pathway for CCP drugs to assassinate Americans but that was what happened. He had made a notable accomplishment, that allowed people to use crypto currency and to remain invisible from the eyes of an out of control government using the Dark Web. That is what most Libertarians only think about. Ross Ulbricht is not an innocent genius creator of a website for the libertarian minded. He aided and abetted criminals just the way Epstein and even Google does. None are innocent. Ross and Epstein got caught and were punished. Google has yet to experience justice for what they have done.

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